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All About Hardwoods

Unique Properties

Each species of timber has its own unique character and properties from being clean and non-tainting (an ideal surface for food preparation) to being naturally durable without the need for environmentally damaging chemical treatments. All timbers can be used to make furniture, craft or used as building materials. If you would like to discuss your particular requirements further then contact us we will be happy to help.

Wood with Character and Heritage
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Large-scale timber processors concentrate on prime grade boards, however the UK public is more interested in wood with character. This was clearly shown in a survey at the BBC Good Homes Show when it was found that 83% of the population preferred wood with character. This is exactly the wood that many people in the industry discard. Customers were shocked to learn that they wood have to pay more to get a product without these so called flaws and 87% said that they would not pay more to eliminate these natural "defects". Scottish Wood works only with timber grown in Scotland. In the past much of this has been considered worthless, however it is beautiful and full of rich colour and character. You can get anything from straight grained timber for boats to cats paw markings and wonderful grain.

Technical Properties
Moisture & Movement in timber
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Timber is hydroscopic and will loose or absorb moisture causing it to shrink or swell until it reaches an equilibrium with its natural surroundings. It is very important when specifying timber that its moisture content should match the proposed environment (i.e. indoor, heated/unheated or outdoors). Using timber that has been inappropriately seasoned may cause splitting, warping and movement in the finished product. Even with kiln dried timber some movement may occur and care should be taken in construction to allow for this.

Timber from Scottish Wood is available in a variety of different forms to take account of its end purpose



% moisture content


British Standard
BS EN 942


Freshly sawn


Suitable for use outdoors when changes in size are not a problem, e.g. fencing, cladding, decking, garden furniture


Air dried

Dried outside (seasoning for approx. 1 year per inch)


Suitable for use with outdoor construction


Kiln dried

Dried in dehumidifying kiln and stored in a controlled, dehumidified environment



External joinery


Unheated buildings


Buildings with heating providing room temperatures of 12-21oC


Buildings with heating providing room temperatures in excess of 21oC



Natural Durability of timber

Different timber species have different degrees of natural durability and resistance to insect and fungal decay.

Scottish Wood recommends the use of naturally durable timbers as opposed to chemical treatment where possible. This is not only environmentally desirable but also has cost saving implications in initial staining/preservative treatments, subsequent maintenance and longevity.

Oak and European Larch
The British Standards recognise the natural durability of some of our timbers and state that provided all the sapwood is removed, the heartwood of natural durable timbers such as oak or European larch is perfectly suitable for areas such as timber cladding which may be exposed to the risk of decay.

Elm is durable in anaerobic situations i.e. when totally submerged or buried beneath the topsoil

Detailed Characteristics of Hardwoods

Ash  return to menu

Ash is a highly grained pale creamy wood. There is usually no distinction between the sapwood and heartwood except in the prized ‘Black-heart’ or ‘Olive Ash’ where the heartwood takes on a darker or even black appearance. Ash is popular not only for its looks, but also for its ease of working and incredible strength. It is an ideal wood for making furniture.

Tough and flexible - Ash is one of our toughest native timbers and because of its flexibility it can withstand pressure, shock and splintering. Traditionally ash was used for weapons and the word ash comes from the Anglo Saxon word for spear 'Aesc'. In modern times it is used wherever toughness is important as in sports equipment, tool handles, boat fittings, chair making, cabinet making and turnery.

Bending ­ Ash can be readily steam bent into curved outlines without breaking or loosing strength.

King of Trees ­ A tall deep-rooted tree, the Vikings considered Ash the king of trees with "its roots in hell and its branches reaching the heavens"

Beech  return to menu

Beech is a clean, odourless, hard wearing and easily worked timber with a bright clean appearance making it one of the most popular homegrown timbers available. It is heavy and strong with a pale pinkish brown colour with numerous small radial flecks (medullar rays) of warm brown. Older trees have lovely colour variations across their wide boards and, if set aside while still in log form, beech can become ‘flamed’ and eventually ‘spalted’. Flamed beech has a stronger colour and is especially popular for fine furniture, kitchen cabinets and worktops. Spalted beach has a spectacular pattern of black lines and is particularly sought after for turnery.

Clean, odourless and non tainting- Beech timber is clean and odourless making it ideally suited for use in areas of food preparation and children’s toys. Traditionally it has been used to make tableware, plates and bowls and is currently popular for worktops.

Hardwearing flooring ­ beech is very hardwearing making it ideal for flooring. It meets the British Standards for homegrown hardwearing floors, (i.e. floors coping with high levels of traffic such as in public buildings) along with oak and hornbeam. It is also the traditional wood for the construction of workbenches.

Easily worked ­ Beech is easily worked in any direction, even across or at any angle to the grain. This is due to its even growth and lack of large pores or rays. It is also very stable once seasoned, ideal for steam bending and takes a stain well. This makes beech one of the most favoured woods for furniture.

Birch  return to menu

Birch timber has an even pale yellow brown or fawn colour with a straight grain and fine uniform texture. The wavy or ‘masur’ markings on some boards give a very spectacular flamy birch sheen that is sought after by cabinetmakers.

Versatile- Birch produces a versatile, fine textured timber of relatively uniform appearance that makes it suitable for many applications including, furniture, flooring and industrial turnery.

Strong as oak - Birch timber is rated the same as oak or beech for its strength and density.

World’s hardiest tree ­ Birch grows all around the Polar Regions. A beautiful white-barked tree with slender branches it has a high conservation value.

Durable bark ­ Birch bark is full of natural waxes that make it waterproof and naturally durable. These properties have been used by the Lapps to make roofing shingles and by the North American Indians for their birch bark canoes.

Elm  return to menu

A beautiful warm brown coloured wood, highly gained and with a distinctive "partridge-breast" figure. Today it is most frequently used for furniture and is especially popular for its attractive and pleasing natural or waney edge. Elm also has some unique qualities that make it ideally suited for use in a variety of specialist circumstances.

Durable under water - Elm will last almost indefinitely when placed in water or below ground level (although it is not durable at ground level). This makes it ideal for the construction of fish ladders and sluice gates and other submerged structures. Traditionally this led to elm being used for coffins. Underground pipes were also constructed beneath large cities by hollowing out large elm trunks and driving them together. Some of these are still dug up today after 250 years below ground.

Unsplitable - Another unusual quality of elm is its "unsplittability" caused by a stepped pattern of its wood fibres. This makes it ideal for chair seats (when the legs are driven in most other woods would split) and projects that require end-grain nail holding capacity such as the transoms for clinker-built boats. This useful property led to the traditional use of elm in wheel hubs and sledgehammers.

We have a large amount of elm in stock, however supplies of this beautiful wood are dwindling due to the effects of Dutch elm disease. All of our supplies come from trees that have been killed by this disease.

Hornbeam  return to menu

Hornbeam is a white wood with attractive flecks and swirls in its grain. It has a beautiful smooth finish often compared to ivory. Hornbeam is a very dense hardwood and is now sold for furniture or turnery.

Exceptionally hard - Hornbeam was once the main source of very hard wood in Britain, and was available in larger sizes than the equally prized boxwood. Its name originates from its use in oxen yokes (the beam between the horns) which were subjected to considerable wear. It was also traditionally used to make mill cogs, piano parts, chopping blocks, pulleys, mallets etc ­ anything that required a high resistance to wear.

Larch  return to menu

European Larch is a hard strong timber with an attractive warm reddish brown or terracotta colour with gold streaks, which fades to silver after prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Natural strength and durability ­ Larch heartwood is strong and is durable outside without the use of preservatives. These properties make it an ideal wood for outdoor use such as garden furniture, decking, cladding and fencing. Traditionally boats were planked with European Larch and some timber still finds its way into quality boat building today.

Overlooked beauty ­ Traditionally valued for its strength and durability the beauty of this wood has often been overlooked. Larch works and finishes well however some care is required to accommodate the frequently changing grain and resin pockets. Once varnished or oiled the finished effect is well worth the effort.

Lime  return to menu

Lime wood is an even pale yellow colour, which gradually darkens over time. It also has a beautiful natural lustre and is soft and light in weight. Most lime wood sold by Scottish Wood goes for furniture production and carving.

"Tree with a thousand uses" - Lime is native to Britain, and in Roman times was know as the "tree with a thousand uses" from household and agricultural implements to shields. Traditionally the underbark or bast was soaked in water and beaten to produce a coarse fibre to make strong rope, fish nets and rough clothing. It also makes good quality charcoal and is said to be excellent for gunpowder. 

Excellent carving properties- Lime has several properties that make it ideal for shallow chip carving and it was especially favoured for delicate work by master woodcarvers like Grinling Gibbons. Seasoned lime is very stable and is soft enough to be carved and yet firm enough to hold a precisely cut surface well. Its stable properties have also made it the favourite wood for the construction of piano boards and keys and other parts of musical instruments.

Furniture - Lime stains well, has good bending properties and is often used for making indoor furniture

Sycamore & Maple  return to menu

Sycamore is the largest of the European maples and was introduced into Britain in the Middle Ages. It is a plain but attractive timber with a white to cream colour, which darkens to a gold colour over time.

Excellent working properties - Sycamore is easily worked, can be cut in any direction and produces an excellent finish. It also has excellent bending properties and can be easily stained which makes sycamore an excellent choice for furniture and internal joinery. Traditionally in Scotland, fine boxes for trinkets and snuff were made from sycamore wood, sometimes in conjunction with dark laburnum. The spectacular wavy grained or "rippled" sycamore is generally used for making musical instruments and very fine furniture.

Clean, non-tainting properties - Its clean white appearance and smooth finish means that sycamore is ideal for use in food preparation areas like kitchen table tops, work tops and butchers’ blocks, rolling pins and bread boards (traditionally it was used for turned bowls, platters and tableware). It is also used to make rollers for textile machinery because it is both hardwearing and never stains the cloth

Oak  return to menu

Oak is a hard and decorative wood with a particularly attractive figure in quarter-sawn material. It is a remarkable material; strong, extremely durable, heavy and attractive which makes it the ideal wood to use in construction both indoors and outdoors. Scottish Wood has sold oak for a multiple of purposes, including boat building, construction beams, restoration work, post and rail fencing, bridge-building, signs, waymarkers, lintels, board-walks, flooring, outdoor and indoor furniture etc.

Durable outdoors - Oak is extremely durable outdoors and does not need any preservative treatment. It is once again becoming popular for outdoor fencing, gates, furniture and features especially in urban areas - both because there is no painting or maintenance requirements and also because of its high resistance to vandalism (cutting, sawing and burning).

Building material - Traditionally oak was the main building timber in Europe including posts or beams, boards or roof shingles. It was also the main shipbuilding timber. Oak structures can and do last for centuries and there are churches in Scandinavia whose original oak timbers are over 1000 years old.

Tannic Acid - Most parts of an oak tree are full of tannins or tannic acids ­ powerful chemicals that have the remarkable property of making skins and hides resistant to decay. Tannins in the wood make the heartwood exceptionally durable out of doors and without treatment. But they react to iron causing "inkstains" ­ ignored in rough outdoor work, but for indoor work oak must always be secured with wooden pegs, brass screws or other metals containing no iron.

Yew  return to menu

Yew produces a spectacular chestnut brown timber with streaks of orange and even purple, contrasting richly with the pale cream sapwood. Clusters of tiny very decorative pin knots further enhance this fine textured, smooth and lustrous wood making this a very sought after and prized timber.

Ornamental ­ The spectacular colouring of yew makes it popular for all kinds of ornamental turnery or furniture construction.

Oldest trees ­ Yews are the oldest intact trees in Britain and are very slow growing (the oldest living tree is in Perthshire and is estimated to be over 5000 years old). Often found in Churchyards some predate the churches and probably have ancient religious significance.

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Scottish Ash, Beech, Birch, Elm, Hornbeam, Larch, Lime, Sycamore, Oak and Yew.